Shoe-Shopping For Fitness + Barefoot Running With Ben Greenfield

credit: Instagram @jonagonzalez5

credit: Instagram @jonagonzalez5

How many of you own just one pair of workout shoes? And for those who own multiple, are they the same kind? Just have one around for backup? Unless you do one type of exercise, you may be selling yourself short. Not all shoes are created equal; the ‘best’ shoe really depends on what you’ll be doing with your feet.

But picking from all the variety of shoes can be an overwhelming task to someone who’s never gone specialty shoe shopping before. Greatist has put together an interesting infographic on Choosing the Right Shoe For Any Type of Exercise. It covers shoes for running, weightlifting, cycling, hiking, and sport, all with nifty graphics and callouts to make the information easily digestible. There’s even a section on socks! Check it out:

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Barefoot Running?
The mention of barefoot running on the infographic might have some people scratching their heads.

Run, without shoes? Outside? Isn’t that dangerous?

It can be, and thus shouldn’t be taken lightly. But if you’re interested in taking the time to educate yourself and easing into it slowly and responsibly, weaning off the shoes might give you the competitive edge. We looked to Ben Greenfield’s informative article on minimalist shoe wearing to shed some light on the subject. It’s a great read, and very detailed. We’ll summarize some of the most important posts here, but definitely give it a full read if you’re at all interested in making the transition.

The Mechanics of Running

Running involves two basic phases: a ground contact phase (in which your foot strikes the ground and maintains contact with the ground) and a swing phase (during which your foot is moving through the air). Shoes don’t affect the swing phase much, but since the impact with the ground every time your foot goes down can send a force equal to five times your bodyweight through your leg, the contact phase is worth looking in to.

The contact phase can look very different from a mechanical perspective based on whether you have shoes on or not. With shoes, you’re more likely to strike the ground closer to the back of your foot, and without shoes (or with minimalist shoes) you strike closer to the midfoot or forefoot.

So what?

Well, there are two main benefits from making contact further towards the front of your foot:

  • You take shorter strides. This means you have reduced impact forces on your foot. This isn’t much of an issue for the foot itself when wearing shoes, but the benefits also travel up to the ankles, knees, and hips.
  • You land with a flatter foot. Your heel and ankle will endure a lot less pressure from the impact.

How to Transition?

Now isn’t the time to suddenly throw away all of your shoes and take to the streets. Shoes offer protection from the elements (sharp objects, bacteria, etc, etc), provide cushioning to absorb impact, and keep your foot from moving excessively. If you are overweight, have poor running form, or have spent your entire life wearing shoes (which, let’s face it, is just about all of us), you’ll be risking injury by all of a sudden taking away that support.

Luckily, Ben Greenfield offers some ways to initiate yourself into the barefoot-club responsibly:

  • Take Baby Steps. Allow at least 4-8 weeks to transition into barefoot running or minimalist shoes. Built up to it. For example, walk 20-30 minutes barefoot for the first 4 weeks, run barefoot for small distances (less than a mile) on soft surfaces for the next 2 weeks, and then for the next 8 weeks increase this distance little by little. At this time, evaluate how your feet feel (are they pain-free? are you comfortable on the soft surface?). If you’re ready, transfer over to harder surfaces. If something starts to hurt, take a step back. Patience is the name of this game.
  • Do Drills. Train your body how to run with good form by including running form drills, such as playground style skipping, the toe-up drill or the lean drill.
  • Feel The Ground. To enhance the senses in your feet (remember, they’ve been blind to the world your whole life), incorporate “feel-for-the-ground” activities like standing on one leg during various activities (brushing your teeth, on a balance disc, during overhead presses, etc).
  • Get Flexible. Unless you want tight calves and needles in your Achilles tendon, work on the flexibility of the back of your legs by regularly doing calf stretches and foam rolling.
  • Get Strong Feet. For shoe-wearers, all your life a shoe has been your foot’s ‘muscle’; it never needed to develop its own. Now it does. Ben Greenfield recommends “standing on one leg and practicing rolling your entire body weight from the outside of your foot to the inside of the foot and back, until your foot is tired. When at the gym, it can also be helpful to do cable kick forwards and cable kick back exercises while standing on one foot. If your tiny foot muscles start to burn and fatigue with these movements, you’ll know you’re conditioning your foot muscles.”
  • Include Plyometrics. You might be noticing a trend here: your feet are overprotected! Bring them back to life by reintroducing them to impact. A good way to do this is through explosive exercises where you hop, bound or skip with one leg or two legs. Get ready for barefoot running by doing side-to-side hops and single leg jumps onto a box.

We hoped you enjoyed this post and learned something that can aid you in your health and fitness goals. If you want to try out minimalist running, Ben Greenfield recommends Vibram Five Fingers and Merrell Trail Gloves.

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.